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In the Harper government's pre-budget conditioning, anonymous spokespeople stated there would be large deficits and a plan to get back to surplus.

There is a plan in the budget. But it's, ahem, underwhelming.

The entire blueprint for fiscal management is found on page 219 of the budget, between the Summary Statement of Transactions and the Outlook for Budgetary Revenues:

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The Government's Plan to Return to Surplus

The planning approach set out in this budget will enable the federal budget to return to a surplus position. First, the Government will continue to carefully manage spending. This includes the structural changes to spending outlined earlier in this chapter - to put Equalization on a growth path that is in line with growth in the economy and the federal compensation regime. It also includes continuing with reviews of departmental spending and corporate assets. As a result of these actions, program spending in 2013-14, measured in relation to the size of the economy, will be on par with current levels.

Second, the stimulus measures in this budget are concentrated in the next two years, when they are needed. Consistent with the focus on stimulus, in cases where time-limited spending does not evolve as set out in this budget, amounts will not be rolled forward beyond 2010-11. The Government will apply a strong "use it or lose it" theme to the stimulus measures proposed in this budget.

The Government will use budget surpluses first of all to repay the deficits expected in the upcoming four years.

Here is the translation of the plan from Budget English to Plain English: "We will hold expansion in operating spending to around the rate of inflation and grow ourselves out of deficit."

But with $20-billion in permanent tax cuts and several billion in new debt financing costs, even a return to modest growth will not be enough to balance the books.

That loss of revenue, combined with additional operating costs to service the debt we are running up over the next five years, means holding the line will not be enough.

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To get back into balance, the government will need to address that $25-billion plus hole in the books. And there is nothing in this budget that does that.

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